Fly Fishing “The Worm Hatch” for Early Season Striped Bass

For a few weeks each spring, a little something special happens in salt ponds and estuaries around the New England coast. This event is a product of excited worms and hungry Striped Bass. The annual cinder worm hatch can be a fly caster’s paradise or hours upon hours of struggle. Hopefully, this piece will help ease the struggle…a bit!

Cinder Worm

How to find a hatch:

As I said above, the worm hatch generally happens in the spring, when backwaters warm to the low 60℉. The exact timing of the hatch will vary between areas and even specific ponds. The best way to find a worm hatch is to first find a larger estuary or salt pond, with a muddy bottom that is at least a few feet deep (the worms spend most of their time in the mud). This pond or part of an estuary has to have easy access to the ocean, for the bass to swim up. Once you have found a spot that meets all of those parameters, you need to spend some time scouting. Starting at late-April, every few evenings, go down to your spot and look for worms. The worms will be darting around right below the surface, and when they are active, it is hard to miss. If the Bass are present and feeding on the worms, they will be busting and boiling all over the place. Since this is definitely something that you don’t want to miss, it is important that you check regularly and always have your gear ready.

When the hard work pays off

Gear:

Everyone has their opinions about what is the proper gear for fishing the worm hatch. I like to use a 7wt rod with a weight forword floating line. You have to have a delicate presentation because the fish are picky, and most of the action happens near the surface. I like to use a straight piece of fifteen-pound mono or fluoro as my leader. Since the hatch often happens early in the season, waders are a necessity if you don’t want to freeze. Fly choice is another odd topic. Almost every fly angler who fishes the worm hatch has their “secret fly”, but any fly one to three inches long and not too heavy, with a red body, and a black or olive head should work fine.

Tactics:

Now, you have found your spot, gathered all of the right gear, and are ready to fish. You roll up to the spot, and the stars have aligned, the hatch is on! It can be quite overwhelming, boils to your right, busts to your left, and a keeper rolling straight ahead, and you can’t buy a hit. This is where most people get quite frustrated. The key is to have a gameplan. I will wait for a spark of action within casting range, and put my fly where I think, or hope the fish is moving. How you present your fly is also crucial. Cinder worms move oddly, so you have to do your best to mimic their movements. Strip erratically, keep it random. Mix in some short and fast strips, some long slow ones, and plenty of pauses. Always remember, if something’s not working, switch it up! Experiment with your retrieve, swap flies, and move around.

With that said, do some research, scout out some spots, and find some of the best days on the water you’ve had in a while.

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